Why Prune? – The Vitex Version

A former architect client once asked me that, after their staking 2 new office mesquite trees failed, one attempt injuring the soft, young bark. “After all, no one prunes trees in the wild”, he followed.

Chaste Tree / Vitex agnus-castus* this 5/2015:

My account is too-common, and I’ve heard even more unrealistic ideas on pruning. Somehow, he didn’t question how nobody stakes trees in the wild, overwaters trees in the wild to watch them flop over or die, or cuts them down to replace with bamboo, japanese maples, lollipop trees, etc.

As usual, I restrained all I thought and did my best on a simple, educated answer; I’ve probably shared the same in past posts.

Flash forward 5+ years, new town and new office with better air conditioning. Our city street department replaced failed honeylocusts over a year ago, with something reliable and no drinking problem. My office landlord noticed the lack of care; I took 30 minutes to show how it can be done.

Notice it’s a low-breaking tree (this species and most desert trees are multi-trunked). It’s not a lollipop tree. The horticultural old guard really disagrees using the former, ignoring the basics of selection and pruning in favor of that 1960’s Des Moines look.

It will take more light, thoughtful pruning, but that’s easy and less necessary as it matures. I can already see a little more that might be removed when it cools down at the end of summer, filling in better than before.

Soon, that Chaste Tree will shade people walking under and near it.

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Do you wonder why there’s so much bad pruning and maintenance, when most people want pretty plantings around them?

After 26 years, it’s mostly about the wrong people in the right places. Property owners with money demand such work, people doing maintenance but lacking horticultural / design training, and laziness / poor excuses from others. Such folks should be written off, but until then, we work around them. Plus, there’s plenty of copying bad work.

At least some do it right, even if they forget a tree or two.

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*This tree is also called Monk’s Pepper Tree, or more often in New Mexico and Texas, Vitex. It’s in more landscapes than I can count in high desert towns, well-adapted and xeric but not native – it’s native to the Mediterranean region.  And like some other well-adapted plants in the high desert, it can become invasive in arroyos or even nearby yards.

So, it’s best to not use Vitex near natural open space; it’s best to use them in the middle of town, just pulling out a few unwanted volunteers.

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4 Replies to “Why Prune? – The Vitex Version”

  1. Pruning is hard…to do right. I need a pruning consultant.

    I start with removing crossing branches and dead wood (10 1/4″ above the branch collar), and keep that pruning of foliage to <25% per year…that seems to take care of most asthetics, too!

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    1. See….you make it sound so easy! Soooooo not! …but i will start with crossing branches…

      Only because that’s how easy it is…good idea, and just do a few. Like cooking, you can always cook more, but you cannot uncook…

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  2. I think your client’s question is a good one actually. A better question might have been, “Why prune?,” because it depends on the space, landscape purpose, and species. Here at the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area for example we have pruned the desert willows in front of our visitors’ center for aesthetic reasons but in the wildlife habitat areas we are leaving them un-pruned and shrubby for the birds. I think in many landscape situations, purpose becomes an important factor.

    I think I’m beside myself! This post’s scenarios, or thoughts towards his reasoning. Function, health, form, safety, having what’s rarer / takes longer in the wild, etc. Wildlife and humans benefit from a balanced approach.

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  3. Love the Vitex, which doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in my humble opinion. I drive by my neighbor’s front landscape every day where he has two of these beautiful trees in full bloom. Now, I just have to find a spot to plant one of my own…

    It’s interesting to see trees that grow well in different cities, but found everywhere in one and hardly at all in another. At least they are compact enough, you might squeeze in one…or use on someone else’s property?

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